Game On

Game On | Twin Cities Mom Collective

The cup in my hand was steaming its caffeinated scent. Daylight’s first glimmer started filling in the room. The house was quiet and the kids’ favorite oatmeal berry bake was in the oven. I had already read a chapter of my book and no one else had yet woken up. 

Once upon a time, that scenario used to be a fairytale. The reality was much closer to waking up every morning to the sound of loud sirens, except upon opening my groggy eyes I would find that it wasn’t actual sirens but babies crying. And while I felt like crying from such a rude awakening, they were crying because they were hungry and ready to start the day. So with a baby on my hip and a toddler hanging on my leg, I would stumble to the kitchen and fumble the milk bottles and bananas, whatever I could find to make the whining stop. Then once everyone was sitting calmly with something in their mouth, I would finally make it to the bathroom (hello!) and then straight to the coffee pot. 

What a mess! As you can imagine, the rest of the day would go from disaster to disaster as I continually tried to play catch up, counting down the hours until bedtime, just to repeat it all again the next day. To be honest, it felt tragic.

When we found out about our third pregnancy, our oldest child wasn’t even three years old. I knew I needed to change this frustrating cycle of daily chaos before adding another baby to the mix. One day, I had this crazy thought: What if I woke up before the kids? (gasp!) Would that make a difference? Sleep felt kind of sacred at this point in life but what I was experiencing as a result of sleeping as long as I could didn’t feel sustainable. And it definitely wasn’t fun. The very thought of adding a third baby crying in the mornings gave me the determination to try.

At the time, the only way to guarantee being awake before the kids was with a 5 a.m. alarm! I quickly learned to pre-program my coffee pot to automatically brew coffee as an incentive for me to get out of bed. I also got a really great coffee creamer and some of my favorite candles – because if I have to be up before the sun, there had better be a cozy candle and good coffee nearby. I set up my favorite armchair with a blanket, my journal and the stack of books I had been trying to finish reading for years. In short, I started to change the pattern of my day from the moment I opened my eyes.

I’m not even going to pretend my new routine was easy to execute, but I knew that habits take about 21 days to make or break and I was committed to giving it a decent try. Even though I am a die-hard night owl, it wasn’t long before I was looking forward to my morning time of quiet and solitude! (I should also mention here that I was more than ready for bed by 9 p.m.)

It has been years since that initial experiment and now my kids are sleeping later in the mornings, so my wake up times are more reasonable. Even so, I am always tempted to stay in bed longer and I go through seasons when my morning habit dwindles. And yet every time I choose to get up before the kids, I remember why I like it so much. It’s not just about a quiet house and uninterrupted reading. It’s more about the huge difference in the way my day unfolds from there. I’ve come to realize that when I have had some time to myself, reading an inspiring chapter in a book, jotting down some of the thoughts and ideas in my head, and of course, sipping my still-hot coffee, then my kids wake up to a mom who is ready for them. I am ready to hear about their silly dreams and get a head start on the tasks for the day while they eat their breakfast. It’s the craziest thing: an earlier wake time gives me more energy for the day and for my kids! 

Yet it’s not just about how early you wake up. It’s really about figuring out your personal pre-game plan. 

In many fields, people have a certain routine or a specific habit that helps them prepare for their craft or work. Writers will often immerse themselves in a remote cabin or take walks in nature to inspire their writing. Many athletes are famous for their interesting pre-game rituals, including wearing their lucky socks, eating exactly two chocolate chip cookies, or sleeping with their bat the night before the game! Musicians and artists don’t fall far behind. Apparently, John Legend eats half a rotisserie chicken before every performance and Coldplay’s frontman Chris Martin absolutely has to brush his teeth before going on stage. 

Some of these pre-game rituals are peculiar and even comical. But these people have figured out what they need in order to present their best performance or craft their best work. So what’s your pre-game plan?

Motherhood is serious business. It’s not just a worthy role, it is the most important job in the world! We are shaping the next generation around our very own kitchen tables. No wonder it has a way of draining us down to our very last drop of energy. Every day presents challenges and curve balls we weren’t expecting. In some ways it’s a learn-as-you-go kind of game, but it also requires innovation, intentionality and purpose. If people put forth so much effort and dedication in their preparation for a sports game or an artistic performance, it stands to reason that we as mothers should prioritize our preparation for this daily “game” of life, this most valuable role we have in parenting our children.

So, what makes you feel ready and energized? What inspires you and gets your head in the game? For me, there are the obvious things I love: coffee, books, journaling. But there are also practical things that give me a sense of readiness: making my bed, having a breakfast plan, putting on make-up and earrings. Music and podcasts also inspire my thinking and remind me why I do what I do. Is the goal just survival of another day? Or is it something more?

Hint: it’s much, much more. And it is totally worth it. 

Game on!

Joy Ballard
Joy was born and raised in Mexico by a Minnesotan mom and south Mexican dad. Ironically, she fell in love with a Minnesota guy and now they live in the Twin Cities with their two sons and two daughters. She spends most of her time homeschooling, trying to keep up with the laundry, convincing her kids to like her dinner attempts, and teaming up with her husband in running their vacation rental venture: The River Lodge. On a rainy day, she likes to create art for the lodge, their home, and others. Joy will always say yes to coffee, books and traveling--and all three combined are her very best life. She is awful at chit-chat, but loves getting into conversations about marriage, parenting, personality profiles, simple living and finding purpose and value in every day life. Follow along with her lodge and art ventures on Instagram @theriverlodgemn and @lemonjoystudio or connect with her personally @joy.ballard


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